Our Opinion: Our New Year's Resolution? Sleep more!


We're not big on New Year Resolutions here at the Reformer. It seems any day of any year is as good as any other day to make a change, so why wait for the first day of the new year? But we can understand how utilizing a significant date to mark a transition in life can be attractive, especially New Year's Day, because everything about Jan. 1 just reeks "new beginnings."

A poll of the newsroom has resulted in no resolutions per se. But we did come to one conclusion: We all need to eat less and sleep more. That's something that seems achievable, but we all know the easiest thing about a resolution is making one and the second easiest thing about them is forgetting about them on Jan. 2.

Nevertheless, even if we get more sleep in 2014, that could be the one thing to make all the other resolutions that much more attainable.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, millions of people do not get enough sleep and many suffer from a lack of sleep; at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders and 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. In addition, more than 40 percent of adults experience daytime sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities at least a few days each month.

"A short-lived bout of insomnia is generally nothing to worry about," notes the Harvard Women's Health Watch. "The bigger concern is chronic sleep loss, which can contribute to health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and a decrease in the immune system's power."

It's well known that sleep causes us to gain weight because it affects the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.

Getting at least eight hours of sleep a night helps with learning and memory, according to Harvard Medical School: "Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who'd slept after learning a task did better on tests later."

And anyone who has stayed up all night or gotten very little sleep the night before knows we are less safe during the day. "Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents."

According to National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research, sleep disorders and deprivation cost the nation $50 to $100 billion in indirect costs. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, falling asleep while driving causes at 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in more than 70,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths.

It should come as no surprise to learn that people who don't get enough sleep are less fun to be around; they can be more irritable, impatient and moody and are unable to concentrate.

Harvard Medical School notes that serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat and sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body's killer cells.

"Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer."

David F. Dinges, Ph.D., of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology and Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, told the American Psychological Association that if a sleep-deprived person doesn't sleep after the initial signs, the person may then start to experience apathy, slowed speech and flattened emotional responses, impaired memory and an inability to be novel or multitask.

"As a person gets to the point of falling asleep, he or she will fall into micro sleeps (five to 10 seconds) that cause lapses in attention, nod off while doing an activity like driving or reading and then finally experience hypnagogic hallucinations, the beginning of REM sleep," noted the APA.

Drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages late in the day, exercising close to bedtime and following an irregular schedule can affect our sleep patterns. Obviously, if the room you sleep in is not comfortable -- too hot or too cold, too much light or noise -- you won't get the most restful of sleeps. People with chronic pain are also susceptible to sleep disorders, notes the APA.

What to do if you don't get enough sleep and it's affecting your life?

First and foremost, speak with your doctor. He or she can recommend a course of action to help you address the problem. Treatment spans the spectrum from lifestyle changes to cognitive behavior therapy to sleep medication.

According to the APA, techniques to combat sleep problems include keeping a regular sleep/wake schedule; not consuming caffeine within six hours of bedtime; no tobacco at all; avoiding alcohol and heavy meals before hitting the rack; getting exercise; making your sleep area comfortable; don't watch TV in bed; and go to bed the same time each night.

Perhaps the best thing you can do to get a better night's rest is to reduce stress in your life, which is the No. 1 cause of short-term sleeping difficulties. For many of us, getting help with our stress might require a therapist's guidance.

However you resolve to make changes in 2014, it appears that something as simple sounding as getting more sleep can result in drastic improvement in your quality of life. But we all know it's not as simple as it sounds. But while your neighbors are going on diets, promising to exercise more, opening savings accounts or paying a little more down on their debt, focusing on getting a better night's rest could make all of those things much easier to accomplish. And you don't have to count calories or balance your checkbook to do it.


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